Shawarma Joint is a new Middle Eastern restaurant on Green Street, and I was excited to try it. I parked in a metered spot over on Sixth Street and walked to the new restaurant located in the space where Zorba's used to be.

The restaurant offers customizable meals made to order. It is similar to Subway or Chipotle where you pick what you want to go in or on your dish. All the rice, protein, toppings, and sauces were easy to see through the glass, and it made choosing what looked appetizing easy.


When I visited the restaurant, the line was short, but by the time I was ordering, lots more customers had joined the line, extending the line all the way to the door. Plan to expect a wait or order online in advance.

A staff person at Shawarma Joint slices lamb on a verticle rotisserie. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The staff were all busy. One person was shaving gyro meat from a vertical rotisserie while others created customized dishes for each customer. The aromas of the place were incredible, and the music was upbeat.

The options for dishes were pita, bowl, wrap, or entree. There were two choices of rice: spicy or mild.

At Shawarma Joint, there are two huge rice cookers, open. The one in front is filled to the top with yellow rice. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

There were a few options available for protein: gyro meat, grilled chicken, shawarma chicken, steak, or falafel. There were many options for toppings including lettuce, tomato, cucumber, sumac onions, pickles, jalapenos, chickpea salad, feta cheese, black olives, banana peppers, pickled turnips, fried cauliflower, fried eggplant, fried potatoes, hummus, baba ghanoush, and tabouli in addition to four different sauces. 

There are nine metal containers on a line holding toppings for pitas and bowls at Shawarma Joint. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I ordered several appetizers, a gyro pita meal, and a chicken shawarma bowl.

A single falafel ball sits on a white plate. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The first thing I tried was the falafel ($0.45 each). Shawarma Joint's falafel looked a lot like a hushpuppy: a dark, round ball. The exterior was crispy, and inside, there was a grainy greenish middle that was soft and crumbly like a chickpea cake. The falafel was herby and had a strong chickpea flavor. It reminded me of bar food, and if I was with a group, I'd order a dozen for the table.

An overhead photo of hummus shows a circle takeout container with hummus topped with herbs, seasoning, and chickpeas. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Next, I tried a small hummus ($3.99). It was so good I wrote about it that week on National Hummus Day. The staff scooped hummus from the line, then added chickpeas and herbs. Then he dusted two different seasonings on top and drizzled it with olive oil. It was fantastic: thick and smooth with a lot of flavor.

An overhead photo of baba ghanoush shows a plastic takeout bowl filled with the eggplant dip topped with seasoning, herbs, and diced tomato. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The baba ghanoush ($3.99 for a small) was pretty tasty. It was also made to order with baba ghanoush from the container where all the customized meals are made. It was topped with diced tomato, cilantro, some sort of red seasoning, and olive oil. It was quite beautiful. The seasoning was pretty spicy which was nice with the creamy eggplant. The baba ghanoush was a great dip, but I wouldn't use the provided pitas which were thick and tough and hard to enjoy. I got out some pita chips from our pantry, and that was a great way to eat the baba ghanoush.

An overhead photo of a circular takeout container of tabouli salad shows finely chopped herbs and diced tomatoes. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I also wanted to try the tabouli salad ($3.99), and I was so glad I did. It will be a must-order any time I go back to Shawarma Joint. Made with finely chopped herbs, diced tomato, diced cucumber, and cracked wheat, this tabouli's main flavors were parsley and lemon. It was so fresh tasting. It was a great palate cleanser from the spicier and meatier flavors of the entrees. I liked the light crunch. It would be a vegetarian's dream, and it's mine, too, even as someone who loves meat. I put it on everything: pita chips, my pita sandwich, and when I had leftover tabouli, I just ate it with a spoon for breakfast the next day. 

I walked into Shawarma Joint thinking that I would order a chicken shawarma pita, but when I saw them slicing the gyro meat and immediately adding it to the line, I had to try some. I ordered the gyro pita ($6.75). You can choose three toppings and a sauce for the pitas at Shawarma Joint, and I chose hummus, sumac onions, pickles, and gyro sauce.

A pita from Shwarma Joint its on a white plate on a white table. The pita is slightly open and white sauce is covering the top layer and spilling out. The gyro meat is shaved thin and stick out a little on the left. In the background, there is a side of fries and soda. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I know it looks a hot mess, but dear god, it was so good. It was bigger than a burger and straight stuffed with gyro meat. The sauce was just on top of the pita which was a little sad because the first bites were so saucy, and the last bites were sauceless. The gyro meat was superb. I could have eaten it by itself. It was so juicy and tender, and it had a deep rotisserie flavor that was delicious. The pickles were not usual pickles; they were long and crispy with a mellow taste — not really sour like the pickles I'm used to eating. The sumac flavor on the crisp onions was light, and sumac was a flavor I'd not tried before, but those tangy onions were some of the best onions I've ever eaten. The gyro sauce was a thick, white sauce that didn't have much flavor but was a welcome texture to the pita. It was hard to get a bite of everything, but I enjoyed having phases of flavor as I worked through the pita.

A paper basket of fries from Shawarma Joint shows a close up on the fries with a reddish seasoning. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I made my pita a meal by adding a fountain drink and fries for $2.49. The fries were pretty good. The seasoning on the fries was tasty, and they were hot and crispy even after the drive home.

A chicken bowl from Shawarma Joint has chicken, rice, banana peppers, cauliflower, and a white sauce on top. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

My husband wanted to try out a bowl, so I ordered him the chicken shawarma bowl ($9.99). For the bottom layer of your bowl, you can choose from rice, hummus, or lettuce. My husband chose mild rice, and then he had a choice of five toppings and sauce. I came with a list of the five toppings he wanted, but the guy making the bowl overrode some of my choices, and so the toppings we got on the bowl are a bit different than what I went in there hoping to try — which was fine except when I asked to add the feta cheese my husband specifically requested, the guy said I already had five toppings, so I couldn't have any feta on this bowl, nevermind that he picked two of the five toppings for me. The bowl was topped with hummus, tabouli, fried cauliflower, sumac onions, banana peppers, and garlic sauce.

The serving was enormous — way bigger than a Chipotle burrito bowl. The rice was amazing, and next time, I'm getting a side of rice because I never wanted to stop eating it. It was fluffy and fragrant with a delicious saffron and lemon taste, and I need more and more of it. The shawarma chicken was unfortunately very dry and plain, but the toppings more than made up for the lackluster chicken. The hummus was smooth and tasty. The tabouli was light and gave a little crunch. The fried cauliflower had a good taste, but the crunch was lost in transit. The garlic sauce had a very strong, very yummy garlic flavor that blended everything together.

An overhead photo of the author's order from Shawarma Joint. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

All in all, Shawarma Joint is worth a try. Go for the gyro meat, but don't sleep on the tabouli and fries. Order in advance here or order at the Green Street eatery in person. 

Shawarma Joint
627 E Green St
Champaign
11 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.